23 August 2014

Relax. It's Normal.

There is a point in your life when you realize that your family is not Leave It to Beaver (or other unreasonable facsimile) perfect. However, the disillusionment lasts only as long as it takes to understand that everyone's family has its own oddballs or version of dysfunctionality. It's a new normal...a more honest one. And, frankly, it's kind of a relief to just go on about your business.

Schools and districts have some similarities to families. We promote the appearance that everything is on the up and up, but the reality is that we are human institutions that are subject to human frailties. And that's okay. Really.

After working for the state for six years, I've seen all sorts of districts and I know where the bodies are buried in all of them. School boards that rarely meet because a quorum never shows up. Entire human resource departments that turn over at least twice a year because district leadership is so poor. Superintendents who've been brought up on ethics violations in previous positions. Clandestine union actions. Incompetent administrators. Poor fiscal decisions (You really thought taking all of your teachers to the casino for a retreat using federal dollars was okay?). Teachers who drink on the job. The list goes on and on. Every district has its own story.

Schools and districts are not so eager to admit that their public face is different from what happens behind the doors. There are reasons for this---I think the public likes to think its schools are utopic places. But the work of education is hard freakin' work done by people for people. It takes a lot of energy to keep up appearances. Energy that might be better used to admit when we need help or give it when we're able. I don't know that we'll ever get there, but I'd like to think that instead of having to pretend we've risen above the vagaries of humanity, that we embrace our strengths and faults instead. I think it would be a better model for our students to see how we grow...that we make mistakes, and that they don't define us...that we accept one another as we are.

I am very happy in my new role, but I can tell that some people are worried that I'm going to find out that the district has a few dirty little secrets and then I won't like it anymore. There are some skeletons in the closet---but so what? So there's some history that influences the present. Great---as a district we learn from that and move forward. I really don't care about the mistakes. Focusing on them takes away from all of the good work that is happening. Guess what? You're like every other school district out there. Sure, you have your own brand of what is or isn't working...but that doesn't bother me. It shouldn't bother you, either.

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